Author: Adam Bratton
Read Time: 7 mins
On September 5, 2020, I joyfully bounded down a ski slope called “Caribou” at Hilltop Ski Area in Anchorage, AK to a round of applause by my wife and a few random bystanders. I had just run another Half Marathon. By crossing the 13.1 miles mark yet again, my goal of running a Half Marathon in all 50 states was officially complete. What started as a simple and impromptu personal challenge a few years out of college turned into a massive multi-year commitment. The perspective gained throughout the experience has permanently changed my outlook on life.
At The College of William & Mary, I played Tight End for the football team while earning my BS in Kinesiology (not surprisingly, the study of human movement). I was enthralled with the complexities and capabilities of the human body and had visions of being a strength and conditioning coach to help others achieve the greatest levels of athletic success.
Upon graduating and completing my internship with the Penn State Football Team, I moved to Virginia Beach to start my professional career as a personal trainer at a boutique studio. As fate would have it, one of my first clients (and still one of my favorite people to this day), Kim Moss was training for another marathon, this time post-mastectomy. I was committed to every one of my training clients and I dove headfirst into their specific physical goals, mental drivers, and personalized plans. I learned a lot about what motivates people in their own personal active pursuits … myself included.
Through some encouragement from the VB running community lead by Kim and Jerry Frostick, I saw a post-team-sports opportunity in running and dipped my worn-out gym shoes and basic cotton socked covered toes into this “running for fun” thing. As an asthmatic, I appropriately wheezed my way across the finish line of the Race for Breath 5K in 2006 in my first ever running race. Immediately after, I was tricked (by Kim) into signing up for the Shamrock Half Marathon only 4 months later. This would be the first step of what I’d later realize is a lifelong and passionate journey.
I never considered myself a runner and certainly never saw myself running a half marathon. Truth be told, I switched from soccer to football in my younger years because I didn’t like to run long distance, but I was raised with the mindset of “if you say you are going to do something, do it”. This lesson would be a driver for my running goals for years to come.
I embraced this new challenge and dove headfirst into a training plan to prepare for this new venture. The next four months was a fun change of pace and I found myself standing in the start corral fully prepared to run 13.1 miles, but ignorantly unprepared to realize how this experience would shape me over the next 15 years as I reminisce and write these words in 2022.
Immediately after crossing the finish line of the Shamrock Half Marathon in 2007, I remember emphatically saying “never again!”. I had checked the box and was moving on. Of course, after a few Yuengling’s during the afterparty on the sand of the Virginia Beach oceanfront and a good night’s rest, I was swollen with bites from the running bug. I immediately started looking for more races … more distances … more challenges. What an amazing way to stay active and connect with a massive community during my personal and professional transition after school. I’ve got the wall of race bibs to prove that I was “all in”.
My running addiction was one of the first things that was unpacked when I moved to Charlotte, NC for my MBA in 2009. Quick “race weekend” trips to drivable states in the Southeast was a common occurrence. A trip to the Pacific Northwest in June 2012 for the Rock N Roll Seattle Half Marathon further opened my eyes to opportunities and experiences that running provided. An excuse to stay active, travel the country, see, and experience new things. This spawned the launch of my self-proclaimed 50 in 50 challenge. Starting in 2013, I set my sights on running 50 Half Marathon in all 50 states. Washington state was officially #9 on the list. (I also ran with an engagement ring in my pocket and proposed at the finish line … We’ll save that for another Journal Entry).
I was on an absolute war path over the next few years … I spent all my free time combing race calendars, cheap flights, and even cheaper motels. 6 new states in 2013, 10 new states in 2014, 10 more in 2015. Then, our first son was born in 2016. Things were about to get fun. For the parents out there, you’ll relate to the constant conflict of priorities that ensues. Flying all over the country with an ever-patient wife is one thing. Doing the same with a small little human is a whole different ballgame.
My perspective completely shifted when I woke up at 3am in a nondescript hotel in Grand Rapids, MI for the third or fourth time on what was supposed to be “race morning”. My toddler was screaming hysterically again, and my wife had attended to young Miles (yes, his name is intentional) the first handful of times. I was overdue to pick up the slack for sure. I picked up Miles from his pack-and-play and tried to doze off next to him on a makeshift bed as I laid and felt a palpable guilt. I was the reason that everyone was supposed to be up, refreshed, and ready to head out the door in 2.5 hours. We planned our entire trip around me running the Holland Haven Half Marathon that morning, a 60 min drive away, and I had the clear understanding that my selfish goals shouldn’t dictate everyone’s ultimate schedule.
I turned off my alarm and the room finally embraced a few hours of silence. When our groggy eyes flickered open, I quickly changed plans and laid out my own 13.1 mi route. I linked up greenways to the urban core of Grand Rapids, found some amazingly historic neighborhoods, and ended at Brewery Vivant (a brewery that I wanted to visit on this trip anyway). I would head out on my makeshift “course”, and Kristi and Miles could catch a few more moments of rest without being rushed. We would meet at the brewery and celebrate another state checked off the list … this time on our own terms and on our own schedule.
The remaining 8 states were subsequently and more casually checked off the map over the course of the following 3 years while another little human (Maximus) joined our family as well. These remaining states were approached from a very different perspective … one of intention, one of collectiveness, one of fulfillment for the experience that WE determined and dictated. I didn’t care about running on a specific date that was set by race schedules, a set route that permits and municipalities had to approve. These remaining states got me back to the original purpose of my 50 in 50 goal. Explore the country, expand my horizon, and now with kids of my own, reiterate the concept of “if you say you are going to do something, do it”.
From the beginning, this goal was my own. I didn’t start it or finish it for external validation or to show up in race results. I’m no longer interested in the obligatory medal or race shirt. These experiences have taught me that my memories, my broader sense of exploration, and my willingness to roll with the punches has wildly outshot the expectations that I had exactly 15 years ago at the Start Line of the Shamrock Half Marathon.
Undoubtedly, there is still a place for more structured races in our lives … hell, I built a career out of creating one of the most comprehensive race series’ in the country and I still RD three Events under the Human Powered Movement brand. But for me personally I am seeking the next level and phase of experiences.
None of this would have been possible if I didn’t have the support to line up for my first Half Marathon in March of 2007. There is certainly some irony as this weekend’s Shamrock Marathon is celebrating its 50th Anniversary. That 50 number has helped me growth physically, mentally, and emotionally over the last decade and a half and I can’t thank Kim and Jerry enough for guiding me down an amazing and fulfilling lifelong path.
I’m not sure if now is the right time to mention it publicly or not, but I’ve already started another 50 in 50 goal. I’m currently 15 months into running 50 Half Marathons in 50 straight months. Again, this is a personal goal on my own terms but if anyone out there is looking for a running buddy to start their own journey, I’ll happily adjust my plans to make it work for you. You never know where a new experience or goal will take you but toeing a literal Start Line is a good place to begin.
Journal - What I Learned Running a Half Marathon in All 50 States
Human Powered Journal
Writings and musings of an active lifestyle
Adam Bratton is the Founder and Head Enabler at Human Powered Movement.
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